For the past week I served as guinea pig to test the “No Email in the Mornings” rule and invited our readers to do the same, tracking their thoughts with the #labrat hashtag. A lot of productivity theories sound wonderful, but the idea of actually including them in the every day context of work, social life, and overall balance of things, often times feels unrealistic. So I took it upon myself to see how it actually held up against my usual morning routine, and in a job that beforehand seemed justifiably excusable from this sort of rule as I handle all of our social media, inquiries, comments, etc.
The answer? It turns out 99U doesn’t explode without me for a few hours.
1. Turn off your notifications. This was the biggest thing I learned during this test. I didn’t realize how much my brain was expecting some kind of notification at all times, how often I reached to check my phone. And how, even for the mindless ones of “joeshmoe liked your photo” on Instagram, I felt compelled to still click on it, and go look at it within the app, as if somehow it would reveal more than them liking it. In fact, I’ve decided to keep them off indefinitely.
2. Make a to-do list beforehand for what you are going to work on. With no clear parameters for what to work on, I wasn’t checking my social or email… but I wasn’t doing much else productive either. Mainly, I fidgeted. When I came in the next morning with a to-do list, I was able to smoothly tackle each and every thing on my list. It was the most productive morning I have had in months.
3. If you break once, it’s okay. Don’t use that as an excuse to drop it all together. I accidentally lapsed early on the third morning, checking my email and social notifications for five minutes before I realized what I was doing. By 10:30 a.m. I had just given up, and felt awful about it for the rest of the day.
Since this #labrat ended, I’ve integrated parts into my daily habit. Now, I wait until I actually get into the office to check email or social, and all notifications for any of it are off on my phone all of the time.
It’s a hard habit to break but if you keep at it, the amount of good work you get back for just a few hours of set, undistracted time is worth it. In the end, the worst-case scenario involves someone waiting an hour or two longer before receiving a response. Unless you’re some kind of finance broker where more than an hour delay between communications means the end of your job, it’s more do-able than you think. People will realize that you’re not instantly always available and that leads to less unnecessary emails and a better respect of your time.
How did your #labrat go?
A common myth that still pops up is that you use one side of your brain more than the other, and whichever side you use denotes whether you are technical or creative. With so many articles still around to spread this old wive’s tale, the NPR Cosmos & Culture blog decided to cut to the truth. The answer?
It takes both sides to be logical and creative.
A left hemisphere advantage for math is mostly seen for tasks like counting and reciting multiplication tables, which rely heavily on memorized verbal information (thus, not exactly what we think of as “logical”!). And there are right hemisphere advantages on some math-related tasks as well, especially estimating the quantity of a set of objects. This kind of pattern, in which both hemispheres of the brain make critical contributions, holds for most types of cognitive skills. It takes two hemispheres to be logical – or to be creative.
However, it is true that we use each individual hemispheres for certain tasks.
Dividing up tasks and allowing the hemispheres to work semi-independently and take different approaches to the same problem seems to be a good strategy for the brain … just as it often is in a partnerships between people.
The bottom line?
But I think the answer to your question is that what we see across the pattern of asymmetries is neither a random collection of unrelated differences nor divisions based on one or even a small set of functional principles (e.g., the left hemisphere is “local” and the right hemisphere is “global” … another popular one). Rather, some of the underlying biology is skewed, and this has far reaching consequences for the kinds of patterns that can be set up over time in the two hemispheres, leading to sets of functional differences that we can hopefully eventually link systematically to these underlying biological causes, and thereby deepen our understanding of how the brain works.
As we do every Friday, we’ve collected our most-shared Twitter links for your weekend reading pleasure.
From the web:
Benoit Mandlebrot was a legendary mathematician and father of fractal geometry. Before he passed away in 2010, filmmaker Errol Morris had a chance to get his thoughts on the creation of fractals, his talents, and more. In this brief preview, Mandlebrot shares his insights on what it feels like when you know you’ve discovered your natural talent and passion, the value of declaring a problem as impossible, and how naming an idea after a random word in a Latin dictionary can give it a sense of reality.
Todd Henry’s The Accidental Creative is a keystone book for any successful creative career. While the book is from 2011, there are timeless tips on how to nail a creative project strategy within its pages. One of the most powerful insights Henry shares is about nailing your project strategy by asking the “Five W’s”:
1. Why is this a project to begin with?
2. What purpose does the work serve, what is the end-goal?
3. Who needs to be involved, and who is the project ultimately for?
4. When does it need to be completed and when are the project milestones (if there aren’t any, make some)?
5. Where will the work appear and where will it be worked on?
Henry goes on to explain that, while the most critical part of any creative project is to first answer the five W’s, the next (and sixth) question is what often makes or breaks the creative side of the project; “How will these objectives be accomplished?”
Get the book here.
The Harvard Business Review posits that our language can have a profound effect on our creativity. Compare “How can we” with “How might we” The latter suggests wide open possibility, the former a glimmer of probable success. From the piece:
When people within companies try to innovate, they often talk about the challenges they’re facing by using language that can inhibit creativity instead of encouraging it, says the business consultant Min Basadur, who has taught the How Might We (HMW) form of questioning to companies over the past four decades. “People may start out asking, ‘How can we do this,’ or ‘How should we do that?,’” Basadur explained to me. “But as soon as you start using words like can and should, you’re implying judgment: Can we really do it? And should we?” By substituting the word might, he says, “you’re able to defer judgment, which helps people to create options more freely, and opens up more possibilities.”
Read the entire article here.
Entrepreneur Ivan Kirigin share his process for preparing a presentation. A few gems:
But if the target is a talk, don’t write a script because it won’t sound like you. You shouldn’t memorize the talk word for word, but you should have the ideas down front and back. This means an outline is as close as you want to get to writing everything down.
Don’t be that guy that surveys the crowd asking for a show of hands. The process is bland, biased, and lazy: you should already do the legwork to research your audience beforehand. A story is far more engaging than a survey.
The running theme through Kirigin’s post? Respect the audience. Read his entire post here.